Forget the mythical crown that the characters of “The Lost City” desperately seek. The true relic at stake is the romantic comedy for adults, a genre on the verge of extinction in contemporary Hollywood. It may be that this late exponent does not take it out of the museum, but it serves to activate nostalgia.
Loretta (Sandra Bullock) is a successful writer thanks to a series of romantic adventure novels. They may be best sellers, but her ambitious intellectual is ashamed to serve popular taste. The recent death of her husband only deepens her sadness. She barely has the strength to participate in the launch of her latest book, organized by her long-suffering agent, Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph).
The main attraction is Alan (Channing Tatum), the recurring model on their covers. Her machismo is all show, and she can’t help it when a couple of mean-spirited thugs kidnap her. They are mercenaries in the employ of Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), a millionaire hell-bent on finding the treasure described in the newly released book, “The Lost City of D.” Desperate, Alan and Beth recruit Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt), their own mercenary, to save Loretta. At this point, she is on her way to a small island lost in the Atlantic Ocean, with a volcano about to erupt that adds even more urgency to the mission.
Bullock’s last two films, “Birdbox” (Susanne Bier, 2018) and “The Unforgivable” (Nora Fingscheidt, 2021) were Netflix-produced dramas, which evaded mass theatrical distribution. In this way, “The Lost City” marks a return to the big screen, and to the genre that put it on the map in 90s Hollywood. I was immune to the charms of the actress in the first stage of her career, but over time, I’ve come to appreciate his comedic timing and unaffected personality. There is no pretense in presenting it. She finds a worthy counterpart in Channing Tatum. The actor is a worthy heir to Pitt, leading men who are not above revealing themselves as clowns.
Viewers of a certain age will feel a curious familiarity with the plot, and that’s no accident. “The Lost City” looks so much like “Romancing The Stone” (Robert Zemeckis, 1984), that I’m surprised it’s not credited as a remake. At least in concept, not so much in execution. We wish someone with Zemeckis’s visual acuity had gotten their hands on this material. The staging of brothers Aaron and Adam Nee has the sterility of television in its most conservative key.
Take note of a sequence in which Loretta and Alan dance in a plaza, to the music of a local trio. We know that Tatum is a superb dancer, thanks to “Magic Mike” (Steven Soderbergh, 2012) and its sequel, “Magic Mike XXL” (Soderbergh, 2015), as well as his invocation of Gene Kelly in the underappreciated “Hail, Cesar! !” (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2016). Here, the moment is dispatched in medium close-ups and a wide shot. I wasn’t expecting a number involving fireworks and an army of extras, but the cool, operational treatment of the moment carries over to the entire film.
The script struggles to offer remedies to the colonialist dynamics of this type of story. White stars descend on brown territory, to “discover” – that is, loot – a treasure. A certain level of caricature prevails, which can be attributed to the demands of comedy – everyone is ridiculous, really. See the local pilot (Óscar Núñez) who offers his services to the desperate Beth. The African-American actress, who has gained visibility after the series “Only Murders in the Building”, is the counterpart whose sanity contrasts with the protagonists. The resolution of the adventure ends up functioning as a denunciation of the materialism celebrated in these times of luxury and conspicuous consumption. It is no coincidence that the villain is an eccentric millionaire, following the mold of Elon Musk and the occasional Murdoch.
The film struggles to establish a rhythm. Its nearly two hour runtime feels unnecessary. Scenes that would be compelling as a short skit drag on ad nauseam, or stall on one note without building anything else on top of it. Still, the chemistry between the actors is irresistible. Thanks to them, “The Lost City” is a solid distraction.
“The lost City”
(The Lost City)
Direction: Aaron Nee, Adam Nee
Duration: 1 hour, 51 minutes
Classification: * * (Regular)